TV Land’s unexpected success with “Hot in Cleveland” gave way to creative misfires, even if there were respectable ratings for some of those nostalgic sitcoms, such as “Happily Divorced.” Like the previous shows, “The Exes” won’t win any points for originality — hell, it’s practically an “Odd Couple” remake, only expanded to a trio — but at least the veteran talent gamely infuses the stale set-ups with a dash of energy. “Inoffensive” might sound like the epitome of faint praise, but for these “Exes” men, it qualifies as progress.
Of course, those with sympathetic hearts might wince to see the likes of Kristen Johnson (“3rd Rock From the Sun”) and Wayne Knight (hello again, Newman) — associated as they are with the glory days of Must-See sitcoms past — in these retro surroundings. And while Oscar and Felix felt mildly daring in their time, the modern divorce rate hardly makes the scenario groundbreaking.
Still, we’re introduced to Stuart (David Alan Basche), who likes to cook and continues pining for his wife, by way of his divorce lawyer Holly (Johnson), who can’t resist seeing after her one-time clients like a mother hen. In this case, that involves hooking Stuart up with two other divorced guys in need of a roommate, agent Phil (“Scrubs'” Donald Faison), who loves the ladies; and Haskell (Knight), who spends days sprawled on the couch selling crap online.
Stuart’s sensitive, touchy-feely ways instantly irritate his bunkmates in what they describe as a “sharing-free zone,” especially when he’s forced to become Phil’s wingman in the premiere and — in a scene lifted almost directly from Neil Simon — winds up discussing his ex and bursting into tears.
On top of that, series creator Mark Reisman (“Frasier”) doesn’t scrimp on the obvious in his one-liners, with exchanges like this: “When you lie, you say everything twice.”
“No I don’t. No I don’t.”
A modest measure of redemption comes in subsequent episodes, if only for the visual gag of the statuesque Johnson being set up on a date with a jockey and Stuart thinking he’s scored with what’s actually a call girl. None of it is especially funny, but the approach is so unabashedly corny and the players so game as to deliver occasional moments, provided one can suspend disbelief long enough to get beyond the premise.
Once again, TV Land will piggyback the show behind a fresh batch of “Cleveland” episodes, which is fast becoming the sitcom that launched a thousand more sitcoms.
Admittedly, nothing here will make anyone forget “3rd Rock” or “Seinfeld.” But watching “The Exes” after TV Land’s “Retired at 35” or “Happily Divorced,” it seems reasonable to settle.